How writers deal with social issues


What happens when you put two writers whose works have had a great impact on a multitude of people in a room together? Literary Crossroads attempts to find out. Presented by the Goethe-Institut in Johannesburg, this is a series that brings together a South African writer with one from another part of Africa for an intimate conversation about topics that may appear in both of their work.

It is curated by Indra Wussow and Sine Buthelezi. In the past, the series has paired up the likes of Zakes Mda and Nakhane Toure as well as Ngwatilo Mawiyoo (Kenya) and Phillippa Yaa de Villiers (South Africa) and even Panashe Chigumadzi (Zimbabwe/South Africa) and Zukiswa Wanner (Kenya).

Imraan Coovadia. Picture: Supplied

Wussow unpacked the concept.

“The idea is to explain or show the people how writers and poets respond to social issues and how proud they are of their work,” she began. “We did it with just South African writers for a number of years, but for the last three years we had one South African writer and invited one other writer from the continent to discuss topics that they both have in their works. Topics that deal with social issues or political issues that are relevant in our societies right now.”

Cape Town 140516- Readers browse through books on display at the Fanschhoek Literary Festival. Photographer: Che Overmeyer

As far as what she and Buthelezi look for when curating this series, Wussow says this is simple. “We’re always looking for writers who have wonderful literature and books which offer us so many new ideas and insights. Books that are written well. We try to match people who work on a similar subjects or feature ideas that are relevant for both to talk about – even from a different angle.”

The topics discussed are always socially conscious but vary depending on the two novelists in each session. For the one featuring Ibrahim and Coovadia, Wussow says: “We will talk about how the individuals are affected by these changes. Abubakar Ibrahim wrote his book from a female perspective in the North of Nigeria.”

“That is something very interesting because we don’t know very much about that area. We only hear about Boko Haram. That finally opens us up to how that society works. We will discuss this with Imraan Coovadia, whose book tells about how the apartheid society changed over the years and there was finally democracy. How much people were changed by this and also what hasn’t changed.”

So expect to experience a moderated discussion coupled with readings from the writers’ work.

I asked Wussow which writer she dreams of having on Literary Crossroads and she said: “This is a difficult question,” and giggled. “Usually all the writers that we ask to come do come unless they are living abroad and can’t. My dream writer to have at Literary Crossroads would be Wole Soyinka, of course.”

The thing that Wussow says is of the most value in Literary Crossroads is the information sharing. She expresses: “What I usually love about this is the writers are usually different people who don’t know each other from before and they get into this conversation that the audience is involved in. You learn something new from these discussions all the time and meet amazing people.”

* Literary Crossroads: Imraan Coovadia and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim is at the Goethe-Institut in Johannesburg tonight at 7pm.

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